We’re learning more and more about the Tennessee House Republicans who voted to expel Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson for their shows of solidarity with anti-gun protesters on the House floor in the wake of the Nashville elementary school shooting.
For example, according to Politico, a former GOP legislative staffer told her that an unnamed member of House Republican leadership called Jones and another Black lawmaker “baboons” in 2020. And that’s only one example of Tennessee legal officials engaging in Klan-destine racism.
“Black people are idiots,” Cade Cothren, the chief of staff to former House Speaker Glen Casada, once wrote in a text message during a conversation about Common Core curriculum. It was one of several uncovered prior to his resignation in 2019. Both Casada and Cothren are now awaiting federal trial in a case involving alleged bribery and kickbacks at the legislature. Cothren has since apologized for the racist comment, and more recently has even condemned the legislature’s decision to expel the Black Democratic legislators.
A former GOP legislative staffer told me that in 2020, a member of House Republican leadership in a text message referred to Jones, then an activist, and another Black lawmaker as “baboons.” Former GOP Rep. Brandon Ogles, then vice-chair of the Republican caucus, at the time also recorded the staffer discussing the text. He shared a copy of the recording with POLITICO. The member of leadership in question denies sending the text. The comments were allegedly made while Jones was taking part in protests following George Floyd’s murder by police.
A member presenting a bill about sanctuary cities in 2018 used the term “wetback” while telling a story. On two separate occasions in 2020, Republican legislators publicly cracked jokes about Black people eating fried chicken.
And on and on.
It’s also worth mentioning that, during an interview with MSNBC, Jones himself recalled being called “an uppity negro” on the House floor.
Now, since Republicans being racist is news in the same way that Donald Trump’s tanning inconsistency is news, let’s talk about something that might be surprising to, well, whoever would be surprised that Republican legal officials might play loose with the law when it suits them. (I’m looking at you, Clarence Thomas.)
Meet Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton.
Actually, you might already be familiar with him since, last week, he led the charge to expel Jones, Pearson and Democratic Rep. Gloria Johnson, who House Republicans failed to expel despite her also engaging in the anti-gun protest. (Although, I can’t qu-white put my finger on why.) According to an investigative report by Popular Information, Sexton may be throwing stones at Jones, Pearson and Johnson, who he claimed broke “several rules of decorum and procedure,” while he himself is in violation of the Tennessee State Constitution.
From Popular Info:
Specifically, Article II, Section 5a of the Tennessee State Constitution states: “Each district shall be represented by a qualified voter of that district.”
Sexton represents the 25th district, a community located about 115 miles east of Nashville. It is a deep red district, and in 2022, Sexton won reelection with more than 82% of the vote. There is evidence, however, that Sexton is not a qualified voter of the 25th district.
On his official website, Sexton lists his address in Crossville as 186 Homestead Drive, a more than 4,000 sq foot, four-bedroom home that sits on more than an acre of land. But, according to property records, Sexton sold that house in October 2020 for $420,000. Sexton then purchased a much smaller, 1200 sq foot, two-bedroom condo in a nearby retirement community. Sexton listed that condo as his residence when he filed to run for reelection in 2022.
Under Section 2-2-122(a)(5) of the Tennessee Code, “[t]he place where a married person’s spouse and family have their habitation is presumed to be the person’s place of residence.” Sexton has two adult children from a previous marriage. He has one school-aged child with his current spouse, Lacey. There is significant evidence that Sexton’s wife and family do not live in Crossville.
Sexton’s youngest child is enrolled at John Edwards Classical Academy, a private Christian school outside of Nashville. Sexton and his spouse are shown regularly attending events on the school’s Facebook page. The school is more than two hours from the Sextons’ purported residence in Crossville.
During the legislative session, representatives who live a significant distance from Nashville generally stay in Nashville during the week and commute home during the weekend. But the Tennessee legislature is only in session from January to April. According to one of Sexton’s Crossville neighbors, he lives elsewhere year-round.
Now, I’m sure violating a fundamental rule in the state constitution regarding lawmakers actually living in the districts they represent is far less serious than the egregious infraction of—*checks notes*—protesting guns shortly after a high-profile mass shooting killed three nine-year-olds. Still, maybe House Republicans should get their legal and ethical houses in order before throwing a legally-sanctioned hissy-fit over Black Democrats throwing up Black power fists during a legislative session.
Because we all know that’s what a lot of the Tennessee Republican outrage is really about.
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